Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the Garden of Eden, Baby

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, honey, don't you know that I love you? In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby, don't you know that I'll always be true?

- Iron Butterfly

Do you remember the episode of the Simpsons where Bart inserted Iron Butterfly lyrics into the church hymnals and everyone was singing "In the Garden of Eden, Baby!" That is one of my favorites. Because nothing screams "church" more than Iron Butterfly.

So the title of this post has a purpose relevant to my voyage. I have found my Eden. And its name is Mauritius.

Unfortunately we were only there for one day. But it's a beautiful and unique place. Mauritius was inhabited by the Dutch originally. It was occupied by the French. And later came people from India. Somewhere over that history the Dodo birds were all killed off and became extinct. They were native to this island. Mauritius is on a coral reef. Coral reefs are found between 30 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude. (See, I pay attention in Global Studies class!)

The island itself is beautiful. There are mountains and thick vegetation, but only 2% of the rain forests actually remain because of the island being built up. 2% still looked beautiful to me.

I ended up being a trip leader for 26 students to a place called Parc Aventura, which is like a high ropes course. There are foot-bridges that are high up in the trees. I have very few photos because I was holding on for dear life!!! They were so wobbly and I was worried that I was going to lose my footing. But lo and behold I made it across to the other side, safe and sound, out of harm's way. We were also hooked on to harnesses, which clipped onto the cable above by a caribiner. Fortunately I also took my malaria pills, because this place was teeming with mosquitoes. (Thanks again Joe and Jackie!) Below is a photo of one of the wiggling footbridges that I crossed:
The second half of the day in Mauritius was spent at a place called Flic en Flac beach, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. White sand and warm, temperate water. Loved it.

People of Mauritius speak Creole, French, and English. It is like India and France hooked up and moved to Hawaii. There were Hindu temples of pastel colors, which to me looked like palaces in Candy Land:
(I believe if you're on my blog's website, you can click on the photos I post to make them bigger and they will appear clearer. Then you can see why this temple reminded me of Candy Land.)

There were gorgeous views everywhere you looked. And I got to practice my French. Regardez cette belle plage, mes amis!

So if you know me well, you have heard the story that ever since high school French class I have had my eye on a place called Seychelles. One of our lessons was about this exclusive island archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean.....a place that never really marketed to American tourists, but was an exclusive spot where one could fly from Charles de Gaule in Paris. Since then I was sold. I wanted to go someplace different and unique on my honeymoon and I have been talking about it ever since. Well, wouldn't you know last Fall one of my best friends Holly got married and where did she go on her honeymoon? Yep. She did it. She took MY spot! But I'm bound and determined to still go anyway. I claimed it first. As soon as I find some lucky fool, we're packing our bags and heading for Seychelles.

Yesterday as we sailed away from Mauritius, I am pretty sure we sailed right past Les Seychelles. I got one step closer to being "in a godda da vida".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fly me to the moon, let me sing among the stars......

I don't even know if words can capture this image.....which doesn't do the actual moment justice. Imagine these stars a million times brighter and a million more of them. Shutter speeds on cameras only go so fast. My friend Jason shot this while we were star-gazing at Kagga Kamma. Hard to believe that was just a couple days ago and now I am looking out the window at Mozambique, as we sail on by.

Right now we are at sea for a couple more days before reaching Mauritius, and tonight I am invited to the "Captain's Dinner". I am really excited since I wasn't invited to any of the previous Captain's Dinners. Since it is just for faculty and staff, there will probably be like 20 of us there. I heard they serve things like caviar and champagne and escargot.

Additionally, everyone has been asking Luke, The Assistant Executive Dean about the seating arrangements and everyone wants to sit next to the Captain. I can't compete with 19 people, but I had another idea.....Being my bold self, I decided to up the ante and request to sit on the captain's lap. Luke just nodded and walked away. A few hours later, Luke ran into me and informed me in a very matter-of-fact manner, "Laurie. Good news. Captain said yes."

My colleagues find this hilarious. Contrary to what you may believe from my blog, this job is not all fun and games. There are whiners and complainers. There are challenges and obstacles. There are papers and exams. In fact, just this morning I had to proctor a Global Studies exam. All 740 students took it at one time. I take the class, but I am exempt from taking the exam (although I am confident that I would pass with flying colors because I have not skipped one single Global Studies class.)

At any rate, students like to complain about things such as this exam, as do some faculty and staff. So I try to mix it up and break the tension. I do things like start the "wave" in the dining room. Sometimes it catches on, sometimes not. Either way, I am trying to be positive. After all, I'm getting paid to travel around the world.

Last night my friend Kate had a party in her room on Deck 2. We drank wine and had fun and merriment. There were about 14 of us crammed into a tiny shoebox of a cabin. And she even played my favorite Ludacris song "I wanna li li li lick you from your head to your toe."

Because nothing defines Semester at Sea and raises one's spirit like a little Ludacris......

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up......

Captivating Enchanting Thrilling Lovely Gripping Breath-Taking

I clicked on the word “magic” to look for synonyms and that’s what came up. And each of these words pretty much sums up South Africa. As I traverse the globe, I find magic with every new step. Laughter at every turn. Beauty in every deep purple sunset. Friendship in every stranger’s smile.

I spent three days in a wild game reserve called Kagga Kamma Lodge. (Forever the sorority girl, at first I couldn’t stop calling it Kappa Kappa Gamma.)

Words cannot do it justice. There were rock formations that reminded me of the album cover for Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy”, especially at sunset. I clearly dated myself, as my 20 year old students had never seen that album cover……I thought Zeppelin was timeless?

THIS, my friends is what Semester at Sea is all about. This trip epitomized the program and all the natural wonders that exist in our world. I spent two evenings star-gazing in the Southern Hemisphere. We saw the rings around Saturn. We saw the Southern Cross. Orion’s Belt. The Milky Way. You name it. The best way to describe the sky would be this: taking a huge black blanket, punching 1 million holes in it and shining a neon light through the holes. The African sky was simply illuminated with stars, three of which were shooting, therefore I made three wishes. (As if I could wish for anything more than this wonderful journey…) I have never seen so many stars in my life. It was like a clear night in the US on steroids. We clearly saw the Milky Way, as well as two other galaxies, which reminded me that my voyage around the Earth is just barely scratching the surface. As cliché’ as it may sound, the Universe is vast, wide, and astounding.

We went on two “sundowners” and one morning game drive.
We saw ostrich, which are enormous; blue wildabeast; bontebuk, zebra, and eland. Some of these animals don’t evem exist in the US. On the “sundowners” you drive for about an hour in these safari vehicles, which are large jeeps with a tent covering the top, to view wild game and then you drink a beer and watch the sun set behind the Cedarberg Mountains. Talk about breathtaking…..

I took this shot, around 7:30 AM today from the safari vehicle. These creatures were so regal and magical and they were at a mere 50 feet from our vehicle:
And these would be the Blue Wildebeast, which are native to Africa. I've never seen anything like them!
And here is a video of some ostrich (home-viewers, go to the actual blog website to view):

Thousands of years ago Kalahari Bushmen inhabited these mountains. And to this day their paintings still exist on the unusual rock formations. Part of this trip was a hike through the rocks to view these paintings. Ummm…but they forgot to mention: NOT A BEGINNER’S HIKE. We had to climb huge rocks. They looked like this. I thought I might die.

Remember how I compared this to "Houses of the Holy"? Well, I felt not dissimilar from the naked blonde girls on the Zeppelin album above. Except brunette. And not naked......but I might as well have been. There were prickly brambles and my legs were completely scraped up. At one point I felt something weird on my arm, and I looked down and saw a big scratch on my upper arm being sucked by three mosquitoes. Fantastic.

Did I need to take my malaria pills here?

Our hiking guide (who actually worked at the lodge) got lost on the hike, because the path was so overgrown and we ended up in the middle of nowhere without a living soul around. When I used to waitress in college, when we got in over our heads, we called it “in the weeds”. I think we were very much “in the weeds” here. There were huge prickly plants we had to tramp through to get anywhere. The rocks were so steep and one student fell down and had to have stitches on his knee. He had a great attitude, and I was very happy to have such fabulous students to assist.
Here is a video of where we were (note: I could not film as we were actually hiking....I was trying to hang on for dear life during that time):

One student was an EMT and she basically took over. The kid's knee was basically gushing blood for the hike, and only one student had a small band-aid and a small bit of gauze. When we finally found our way back on “the path of least resistance” two hours later, he was transported to the nearest hospital which was two hours away. The Massage Therapist drove him there, so my massage was cancelled, but I was completely cool with that, because I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool, a cool and refreshing retreat after hiking through the African sun all morning.

Our accommodations were rustic, yet luxurious- a strange conundrum. I stayed in a little round, thatched-roof shack with this big plush bed, air conditioning and South African tea. There it is above. It was like a regular hotel room, except the other morning I was reminded that I was in the bush when I was greeted by this guy:

In the evening it is quite dark and there is not another living soul around. They turn off all the lights at the lodge so everyone can star-gaze. Grandma- you would be so proud- I brought a flashlight! My grandma always gives us flashlights for Christmas and she always has them sitting all around her house. In college, in grad school, and when I moved to NYC years ago she always made sure I packed a flashlight to have for each new apartment. She taught me well, because I had no problem finding my way back to my hut.

At night we sat around a campfire and played a game called “Mafia”. It involves strategy and reading people’s non-verbal cues. You are on a team, only you don’t know who is on your team and who isn’t. I may write more on this game later. It is such a fun and unique way to get to know people, and I feel like I really got to know the 21 students on the trip much better. Even our tour guide Dave played with us. We had dinner of oryx around this fire before-hand. (Oryx is a type of venison and it is delicious).

Earlier today, on the way back to the ship we visited a winery which is also a cheetah farm. I bought a wonderful South African wine for a mere 250 RAND, which is like $2.50 US. I love South Africa. Where else would there be $2.50 bottles of wine and cheetahs? The cheetahs are domesticated and you can stroke them.

The bus driver also had to brake a few times for baboons crossing the street. Did I tell you how much I love South Africa?

Our bus driver Younes and our tour guide Dave (not to be confused with Tracey, the one who got us lost on the hike) were remarkable. We blew kisses goodbye and I was sad to part ways with them. Younes told me his day off is tomorrow and he offered to show me around Capetown and I’ve not yet decided whether to meet up with him or not.

Now I’m back at the ship and we’ve got one more day in Capetown. I am going to sleep soon, as I’ve got a lot to squeeze in while visiting this extraordinary city tomorrow for one last day. Capetown is very westernized. Everyone speaks English (as well as a language called Afrikaans, which is a combination of German, Dutch, and Danish….some of it sounds like English too, for example the “information packet” at the lodge was called “Inlightingspackket”). There is so much to do here in Capetown. Here is a video of the day we arrived:

Basically I've barely scratched the surface. There is Robben Island- which is where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Tours are given by former inmates. You take a boat to get there and penguins live on the island. Kind of the African version of Alcatraz. Then there is Table Mountain, which has a tram to get you to the top. Or you can hike (which I will NOT be doing after my earlier adventure!) So much to do, so little time…..And after my trip to the bush, at the risk of one too many puns, I’m bushed……

My Uncle Jeff emailed me this once a long time ago and I found it apropos:
Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. And, every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So, in Africa, it doesn't matter if you are the lion or the gazelle. When that sun comes up, you had better be running.

(Except for the hike.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You call some place paradise - kiss it goodbye.

Then the chilly winds blew down across the desert, through the canyons of the coast to the Malibu where the pretty people play hungry for power to light their neon way and give them things to do.

- Don Henley/Glenn Frye

I think a lot. And today I've been thinking about Namibia and I've been thinking about how untouched so many parts of it are. Tourism is not big there. The port does not cater to cruise ships. Wildlife runs free.

But I was thinking of something else- there was a lot of construction there. Angelina Jolie might have started the trend when she came there to adopt her babies and stayed in a lavish home between Walvis Bay and Swakupmond.

Wonder how long it will be before the dunes give way to Neon Lights?

Anyway, I can't really complain. I'll just be able to say I saw it in it's nature days. And here is one more video. This one is of the giant dune (folks on email, go to the actual website to view).

My understanding is that if you get my blog through your email, the videos didn't show up. Sorry about that! I guess you'll have to visit if you want to see the videos. The photos do show up in your email though, right? I'll try to let you know if I post videos again so that you know to view them on the blogger site.

Namibia yesterday. Capetown tomorrow.

In the meantime we had taco day (a rarity) for lunch and now it's about dinner time. We also had a Muster Drill and they finally gave me a megaphone this time to shout out all 90+ names. My students were top-notch. They were quiet, they all remembered their life jackets and they cooperated.

Here is a photo of me in my lifejacket right before our Muster Drill. I even wore my Mets Visor because it matched. Talk about neon.....

Monday, February 16, 2009

The heat was hot and the ground was dry

But the air was full of sound

Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain

In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain

, Horse with No Name

I love Namibia. We pulled into Walvis (pronounced Vall-Fish) Bay two days ago, and as we disembarked we were greeted by a local children's choir. Then we drove off into the desert. It is a unique climate here, known as a "cool desert". There is sand everywhere you look, but the gentle breeze of the ocean keeps the temperature quite comfortable. The African sun, however is intense and I have seen a lot of students, faculty and staff sporting some seriously red lobster skin.

The Germans settled a city in Namibia called Swakupmond. The signs are in Ge
rman, people speak German, and the food is German. Yet there are palm trees and sandy beaches's in Africa. Most people here speak English, but some people speak what's called a "click language". It is really unique and interesting to hear. Here are Shirl and I on the waterfront in Swakupmond:

We also went to the highest Dune, known as "Dune 7". Some people chose to climb it. I did not.

Everything in Na
mibia is a conundrum. There are flamingos, yet there are oryx. There are seals, yet there are giraffes. There are dolphins, yet there are zebras. On our drive back from Swakup (as the locals call it) to Walvis Bay we saw many pink flamingos casually lounging just at the water's edge. Less than a few kilometers away was a young oryx wandering through the desert sand, right beneath a palm tree. He looked like a small deer with antlers. It was a strange backdrop for such a creature.

Outside o
ur ship were seals playing in the harbor.

We found a bar that was also a pet shop. There were parrots, kittens, puppies, love birds and goats for sale. I had a very sweet Valentine's Day. I went with Sarah, Nate, Kate, Lisa the Librarian and Andrea to dinner and then to the pet shop bar. The owners couldn't have been any sweeter. Walvis Bay is a harbor town, but it is not really a cruise ship harbor. It hosts mainly freight and cargo containers. The locals were so excited to have us and to hear that we were from the US. They had many questions, as foreigners often do. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with them and playing with their pets. I remember at some point one of the guys asking me why I wasn't dancing and I told him "Oh because I've been petting goats." And he just nodded. I later thought about how very little sense that reply made, and it made me chuckle. But I didn't have the heart to tell him "Because I dance like Elaine from Seinfeld!" The next evening I went to dinner with Julie, Erik with a K and his wife Amy and their toddler Eleanor. We tried ostrich, oryx, and alligator. I loved the ostrich. It was a juicy steak and so rich and flavorful. The whole thing was less than $100 Namibian dollars, which is like ten bucks USD. It included escargot and wine and a german potato salad. We all fared well in Namibia.

Guess I should mention Erik is Kevin. Julie is Andrea. She reminds us of the cruise director from "Love Boat" so we renamed her. Kevin is from Minnesota, so it's only right that he would have a Viking name. My name is Dominque because I like to speak French and it's exotic. Shirl is Dani. Kate is Biscuit. Becca is Vicki. Nate and Sarah are Rupert and Roxy. The other Kate is Trish. Janetta is Bonquisha. Brad is Dougie. Are you confused? Yeah, I understand....I sometimes get confused about these names as well.
But, you see it doesn't take much to amuse us. And somehow it adds to the adventure and the spirit of our voyage to rename ourselves. This morning Biscuit, Vicki, Bonquisha and I went to a local harbor-town bakery and had coffee, then we walked back to the ship where some locals were selling their wares. These beautiful hand-made wooden crafts that were already reasonably priced, but worth bargaining for. I got some wonderful souvenirs for a great price. I can't wait for you guys to see what I bought and to give them to you!

Oh- and another funny story: Biscuit and I went to an ATM and had a conversation that went like this: "how much cash are you getting?" "I much are you getting?" "like $50?" "yeah, that sounds good" And after that, we realize $50 is the equivalent of 5 measly American dollars! Which made us laugh. But then we got a huge pizza and sangria AND a beer for $5 USD.

Each port is so very different.
Can't wait to see what adventures Capetown will bring....see you there in two days!

**Sidenote: I have a LOT of cool photos to upload, as well as some videos that I took in Namibia. But the internet connection is not cooperating. But by then I'll have new adventures to the meantime I was able to upload one more of our City Tour of Swakup.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flying Fish, Photo Booth, and other Musings

Tomorrow on Saint Valentine’s Day we will finally be in Namibia.

The days at-sea start to all run together after the first 3 days or so. This is day 8.

I was just thinking of some things that are unique and fascinating to me:

1) We will have two April 12ths this year because we cross the International Date Line on that day(s).
2) We will also, therefore, have two Easter Sundays!
3) If you are a fan of Major League Baseball, you have a big red circle on April 6. I am a big fan of baseball, myself, but don’t worry….I’ll still be at opening day….in Japan! I am really excited to see how the sport is played in Japan. I’ve heard there is synchronized cheering and choreographed screaming for teams. (And I am hoping there is still cold beer and hot dogs. Would cracker jacks be asking too much?)
4) My cabin steward who does my laundry writes my initials and cabin number on my clothing with a black sharpie.
5) Taco day is huge in the dining room.
6) So is Fish & Chips day.
7) The Captain is wandering the corridors quite often. I don’t know who steers the ship at that time. Guess it’s on auto-pilot?
8) Faculty and staff adopted surrogate students through this ship-board program called “Extended Family”. I have about ten students who call out “Hi Mom!” when they see me. It always catches me off-guard. Cool kids though. And as any good mother would do, I bought them all ice cream yesterday.
9) One of my many strange roles here is “birthday cake duty”. Students’ parents (the parents back home, not the surrogate ones) order them birthday cakes and we have to track their friends down and determine which dining hall they’ll be in and at what time so they can be surprised. It’s a pain in the ass.
10) There are barf bags (like the kind on airplanes) strategically placed all throughout the ship.
11) When I stand outside near the railing and look out to the sea, I notice grains of salt on my skin when I come back in.
12) Some of the crew will be leaving us in Hong Kong and that includes my cabin steward, as well as some of my favorite dining room crew.
13) I spilled nail polish on my favorite dress (it was the ocean's fault for being choppy!) and I tried the following things to get it out. I think hydrogen peroxide did the best. (in case you're wondering why I used bug spray, I found that solution on the internet):
It worked a little, I guess. But I still have "I'm Really Not a Waitress" by OPI on the dress. Do you see it?

14) The ship makes its own water. There is this big complicated machine in the engine room that sucks in the salt water and evaporates it and turns it into steam and all the salt is filtered out and it becomes our shower and drinking water.
15) The ocean is 2 and a half miles deep (at least it was in the stretch we sailed through yesterday.)
16) Spain didn’t stamp my passport, nor did the Bahamas. Casablanca did though.
17) These kids’ names are all: Emily, Megan, Katie, Nicole and Lindsay. When I don’t remember the name of a student, usually one of those five works.
18) There is a little more variety with the guys. Lots of Michaels and Mathews though.
19) I’ve seen dozens of flying fish.
20) The crew is CONSTANTLY cleaning. I saw one guy with a small tool that looked like a toothbrush, scrubbing each leaf of a plant. And I saw another guy polishing the brass rails on the stairwells. He is there every day at least a few times a day.
21) After 7 days at sea, you find fun things to do with your friends using the "Photo Booth" application on your Mac.
Psychedelic, glowing and the third- my personal favorite is "Take on Me" by A-Ha:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where the Prime Meridian and the Equator Meet

There is an old maritime ritual called "Neptune Day". This is the day when "Polliwogs" cross the Equator to achieve "Shellback" status. As the ancient nautical tradition goes, polliwogs must go through a series of initiation rites to earn Shellback status. These rituals include being immersed in fish guts, shaving one's head, and kissing a dead fish.

Kinda like the rites of passage I had to go through to be confirmed in the Catholic Church or initiated into my sorority in college, except sans the fish guts and shaving of the head. (Okay- actually nothing like these two events at all, because that would be hazing. But still a rite of passage which earns you new status.)

So we had the ceremonial activities yesterday, but we actually cross the Equator today. I also noticed the ship's position last night was 12 degrees longitude, which puts us pretty close to the Prime Meridian as well. There is a special title for Shellbacks who cross the Equator at that 0 degrees longitude point and that is called Emerald Shellback or Royal Diamond Shellback. I'm not sure if we'll cross exactly at the Prime Meridian or not later today, but we'll be pretty close as we edge in towards Walvis Bay, Namibia.

The navy also has some fraternities when sailors accomplish certain feats. I would be eligible for the following after this voyage:
  • The Order of the Golden Dragon for sailors who have crossed the International Date Line. (We will have two April 12ths and two Easter Sundays on this voyage!)
  • The Order of the Ditch for sailors who have passed through the Panama Canal.
  • The Order of the Rock for sailors who have transited the Strait of Gibralter (done).
  • The Emerald Shellback or Royal Diamond Shellback for sailors who cross at 0 0 degrees off the coast of West Africa.
  • The Order of Magellan for sailors who circumnavigated the earth.
So early in the morning yesterday the ship's crew came through the corridors banging on drums and blowing whistles to wake up the entire ship's company. King Neptune (i.e. the Captain of the Ship) presides and each polliwog must bow before his royal court. Many students were outside all day and last night at dinner I saw a lot of bright red lobsters. SPF 30 doesn't do ya much good when you're at the Equator.....But aloe ran aplenty and no one seemed to be complaining too much. Because Shellbacks don't complain!

Here are some photos:

Okay and just for fun, I'll end with a poem, which I have adapted from Desire, by U2. The humid air outside, the sunburned students, the proximity to the Equator, and the desire to finally get to Namibia made me think of this particular song:

Lover, I'm on the sea
Gonna go where the prime meridian
And the equator meet
With the Explorer...on fire


She's a vessel sailing in the dark

Yeah I'm like the dolphin, dolphin and shark

Over the railing with the hot sun

Pretty soon everybody got one

And the fever when I'm beside her

Desire, desire...

And the fever...getting higher

Desire, desire...
burning, burning

She's got the scholars

She's my protection

Yeah she's a promise

In the year of election
Oh sister, I can't let you go

Like a preacher stealing hearts
At a traveling show
For love or money money money
money money money money money money money money And the fever, getting higher Desire, desire, desire, desire Desire, desire

PS- No, I didn't shave my head in case you're wondering. Only my legs.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunset over Senegal

A long one, but be sure to read till the end, because I’ve written about some of you. We just left Dakar, Senegal where we had to bunker once again (we were not off the ship, however)……

Every morning around 3 AM the windows of the ship are washed. There is this automatic jet spray that spurts out to cleanse the salty residue on each window.

And every morning, I am foiled. I think it’s a rainstorm that I’m hearing and then I wake up and rub my eyes, startled. But day after day it’s not a storm after all, it’s just the jets.

And did I tell you how good I sleep on the Explorer? The ocean rocking me to sleep and the quiet sound-proof walls are just what the doctor ordered for insomniacs. I also dream quite vividly. Every morning I wake up remembering my dreams. They’re often quite weird and they are definitely indicative of what transpired during the day or what is about to go down the next day.

As with any large group, it is inevitable that there are people you’re not going to like. That is the case on the ship. There is this pushy guy- we’ll just call him Tom for now, and Tom might as well have a whip that he swats at my arse demanding what he wants. Then there is this woman whom I’ll call Linda. Linda comes up to our desk to ask me a question and I start to answer it and she cuts me off and coldly interjects that she doesn’t like the answer (the one which I haven’t had a chance to spit out yet.) Last there is a woman I’ll just call Princess who shops like a maniac and wears the tightest clothes and the highest stilettos. She does have a slammin’ body, I’ll give her that. But she’s condescending and shallow and I just don’t like her.

Disclaimer: None of these people are students and none are on my team nor people I have to report to. {Uggh….I ended that with a preposition}….And for the record, I really like most people, I do, I do! I find something nice about almost anyone, so 3 people out of the 1000 on this ship isn’t too bad.

Not to get too off-track, I dream about these three tormentors sometimes. And I incorporate local quirks into the dreams. Like for instance, there goes Linda through the casbah in Marakech, whipping a poor donkey who is carrying Princess’s shopping bags on his back. And on looks Tom who is complaining about the system of the donkey carrying Princess’s shopping bags, while demanding that I do something to change the way they execute this process.

That’s how it goes.

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite people, just to get my mind off the tormentors. Do you remember a couple months ago I promised a post about all of you- my readers and loved ones? Well this is that post Part 1. I have so many of you that I have to break it up into more than one section- so don’t sweat if you’re not here. Remember, you have to guess which one you are. They are in no particular order. If you think one of them might be you, email me or leave a comment and I’ll confirm or deny. Here goes:

1. Wise, sophisticated and fashionable you look great in hats. Except- I’ve only seen you in a hat once. You are wise and you’ve visited more countries than I can begin to count. We relate well to each other. We love Indian food. I think of you as one of my mentors and most of all my friend.

2. You are someone I can count on to roll on the floor laughing with me, even if nothing is funny except for the sound of the two of us cracking up. We like to pick out “what not to wear” and usually that cracks us up more than anything else. You always dress very well. You are one of the best mothers I’ve ever met and it is evident when you tell me the stories about your child. You are one of the people I look forward to seeing when I get back to NYC.

3. Another awesome parent, you also crack me up to no end. You sometimes mix up words, especially when describing the rats that live uptown. We always have fun together and I can’t wait to come over in May so I can play with you and your family.

4. We do not see each other often anymore, but together we have pulled some funny stunts in our day like having a drink or two before our dates to take off the edge. And then that drink or 2 turns into many drinks and we are slobbering messes by the time the date rolls around. We always have a great time and we pick up again like we haven’t missed a beat.

5. The theme must be “sense of humor” because I am thinking you are just about the only person besides myself who has so many hilarious travel stories. Like falling up escalators with 37383930 suitcases and spilling food all over your shirt and things of this nature. You like to make fun of my “northern”isms like “any port in the storm.” I love being around you. We have a “Team” thinking you should just suck it up and move to New York already. Bring the Spanish Moss.

6. I can tell you all of my crazy stories and you will never judge me. In fact- I could probably tell you I murdered a couple people and you would nod and tell me you understand and probably just hug me. I am anxious to see your place in Queens and catch up with the rest of the boys there. And maybe we can eat giant chunks of baklava, because we never realized they’d be so huge.

7. You are one of the smartest women I’ve ever met and I feel very safe sharing everything with you. I feel a little off-kilter not seeing you regularly now that I’m on the ship. I admire you so much. You get me. Plus you always dress really cute.

8. You are one of the three sisters I never really had. You feel a little out of sorts after you’re move from FL back to OH, but you’ll be just fine. My whole family loves you and your sense of humor. I wish I could spend more time around you. No nonsense and tells it like it is!!!

9. Wish you would just make out with me already!

10. Mi hermana. Te amo mucho. Que Linda! Mucho presents parati de el mundo!

11. Chickadee. Thank you for all the emails these past two days. Miss you much. When are you coming to NYC? How about May?

12. Wine time. It’s our favorite thing. It goes hand in hand with Jeopardy, where we get all the answers right between the two of us. Put on your best frock, because I’ll be around in May or June for some rotgut.

13. Tu es tres gentil. Je t’aime. Ma mere est mon meilleur amie. Elle faire tous pour moi. Je te manqué beaucoup. Je voudrais voir bientot. Si to veut venir a un de les pays avec moi, j’ai (shit- I forget how to make that future tense) une chamber pour tu dormir. Bonne idée, non?

14. Ella es loco! Mi espanol es no mucho mas major que mi francais, pero te amo! Love to make fun of people with you. Why don’t we do that more? When I move back to the LES and when you’re in Astoria we’ll do that every day, ok? Love your spunk.

15. Okay, back to English. Which is fine since you barely can speak that language. For some reason I like you anyhow. Who needs eloquence?

16. I just met someone on this voyage who knows you! You work at your HQ and I believe you visited her chapter at one point. I haven’t seen you for years, but we always had fun together. You are one of the most amiable and friendly people I know.

17. Your understanding of the world is right in line with my own. Except you put it into simple English to make it make sense. You are one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and I am so fortunate that you came into my life. Can’t wait till May and we can share candy. We never did get together again before I left and I was sad.

18. Thank you for helping me transition out of my former life to start this one. I loved that I got to spend my last moments with you and was sad to part ways. Love jew, even when you’re being a pain in the arse. xoxoxo

19. We weren’t friends in high school, but we were acquaintances. I have loved our emails and I think you lead such an amazing life….marathons and a beautiful baby and the career that I’ve always wanted. I think I told you before, but my mom and I always thought you were pretty. I hope we cross paths in real life again one day!!!

20. The best for last….or so he may think. As a matter of fact, I’m not even certain he will read this far if he reads my blog at all. You have always been generous with me and I barely get to see you. How about we meet up in a little place we used to call home after my voyage? Love you.

PS- Did any of you catch my Humphry Bogart quote in the last post, as we pulled out of Casablanca?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bazaar Things

You know that blog I posted about how wonderful Spain was?

Well imagine that and imagine a place that is nothing like that. And this would be Morocco. A mere strait separates the two, but they are a world apart.

But let me be fair....Morocco was wonderful too. Just in very different ways... if you're willing to have some patience and a mind for adventure. I think I can now officially say I "rocked the casbah". My Aunt Becky and Uncle Jeff were in Morocco and they hated it, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They were in Tangier though- and everyone I've spoken with said Tangier is the armpit of Morocco and most people who go there don't enjoy it. Sorry Aunt Bec- I wish you had had a better experience.

So before we got to Casablanca we sat outside Gibraltar for an entire day waiting to bunker (fuel). But the water was much too choppy for the bunker ship to extend a line to our ship. Sound confusing? Yeah, it did to me, as well. But finally we got our fuel and we had one heck of a bumpy ride to Casablanca. I didn't feel seasick, but I did feel quite dizzy and spent most of the day lying down in my cabin. Our staff also tried to organize some activities for the additional unexpected day at sea. We came up with the idea of a Rock/Paper/Scissors Tournament and my clever title was "We've got the Rock (i.e. Gibraltar!)- You bring the Paper and Scissors."

When we finally got to Casablanca and were just about ready to pull into the port, the British Captain came on the PA system and said something that reminded me of a quote from All About Eve: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!"

Was it ever. We took this turn which basically made us pop-a-wheelie (if the ship were to have wheels) and caused the entire ship to lean over far to one side. I fell out of my chair into a glass table and I have a huge bruise on my entire upper arm to prove it. My friends think it's funny and have been taking pictures of it. Maybe I'll post one. Maybe I won't. (I know you guys are dying to see it. How do I know this? Because you were all fascinated that time in NY when I slid through a puddle and fell between the subway and the platform and had a huge bruise on my thigh.)

How do I get so off-track? Where was I? Morocco. Right. So I was a Trip Leader (chaperon) for a trip to Marrakech. Marrakech is a city with a rampart (wall) with a Medina (Islamic city) contained within it. In that Medina is the souk (dust-filled open arena with a bunch of narrow winding paths situated with thousands of merchants all luring you to buy). In the souk are monkeys, snake charmers, donkey carts, beasts of burden, vendors selling orange juice, figs, and dates, fortune tellers, and merchants selling their wares. Most of the women are covered in head-dresses and some are even covered so that only their eyes are peaking out. The entire city smells strongly of incense. Every so often there is a loud chanting/singing that echoes within the rampart. That would be the Islamic Call to Prayer. I learned all this from our Tour Guide, Mohammad.

There was one point where I thought we'd lose all the students. Narrow alleyways and tons of people and construction. Somehow I herded all 41 of them together and we made it through.
After a tumultuous trek through the souk, trying to avoid the high-pressure sales tactics we went to this Moroccan dinner with Camels and Belly Dancers and a horse show. Here are Nate (Dustin), Sarah, me and Rose:

The food has been amazing here. It reminds me a lot of Greece. For lunch the other day we had Lamb with dates and potatoes and olives in this amazing sauce. And for dinner we had cous-cous with some sort of meatballs and fried eggs. For dessert there were large bowls of fresh oranges. They were so sweet they almost tasted like sugar had been injected into them.

Today we visited the Ourika Valley which is home to the Berbers who have inhabited Morocco for many centuries. They are the Mountain People and we were fortunate enough to visit one of their homes today. The hosts were Fatima and Mohammad (not to be confused with our tour guide Mohammad.) Their home is in the Ourika Valley and it is made of adobe. You have to walk down a muddy footpath to get there. Their home is quite large and it is open-air. This was interesting since it was pouring down rain. It felt damp in there, but the top was covered by a tarp. There was a big kettle in the kitchen and the smell kind of reminded me of girl scout camp. They served us this decadent mint tea and bread that they had harvested by hand. The bread was hot and delicious and we dipped it in this olive oil that was also home-pressed. There was also homemade butter and honey. In Mohammad and Fatima's back yard they grow olive trees, orange trees, and avocado trees. They own several cows and some sheep. They are very self-sufficient. Believe it or not, they also have a steam room! It is not uncommon for Berber homes to have a steam room to rejuvenate, cleanse and aid their breathing. I think the visit to the Berber home was my favorite part of the visit.

Here I am in the Ourika Valley. I love this place!
This was after the rain, but it was still quite chilly up in the Mountains.

We went back to the souk for lunch and to bargain with the vendors. I am still trying to figure out if I got screwed buying some souvenirs. I did buy some cool stuff, but I got confused with the diiram exchange rate and this guy was pressuring me and I felt rushed. His name was Mohammed. (Big friggin surprise there.) These women who did Henna also lured me over for a "free sample" which turned out to cost $7. I don't even like Henna. I did not want it on my hand. And I did not want to spend $7. This woman named Fatima (quelle supris!) yelled at me and told me she has starving babies to feed. She was demanding $50 US dollars. No way. No how. I looked her straight in the eye and told her how much I hate Henna in the first place (I really do- maybe it's my imagination but my whole hand feels tingly and I feel like I have Moroccan Rosacia or something). A free sample means "free" in most languages and Fatima is lucky to get $7. So now I have this crappy orange stuff on my hand, which is smudged because I washed it off before it was dry. I waited a total of fifteen minutes, but I still have a pretty solid marking.

Even with the pushy vendors, I am still digging Morocco. The Berber home and the sensory wonders made up for all of that.

After a three and a half hour bus ride back to Casablanca I was exhausted. I was supposed to have dinner with a Moroccan family, but there were too many students signed up, so I stayed back. My buddy Becca in the field office will hook me up with another cool trip somewhere else to make up for it. Instead a few of us played a game similar to charades in the faculty-staff lounge. It was Jason's last night here and he was on my team and guess what our team was called? Uh huh. You guessed it- Cafe Con Leche!

So starting Thursday night we've got an 8 day stretch at sea after our departure from Casablanca and before we get to Namibia. So who is going to leave comments on my blog to keep me entertained? ..........Here's looking at you, Kid.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dream if you will a courtyard.....

Every day trumps the last as "the best day of my life".

Loved Spain. Every last minute. Every sip of every cafe' con leche'. Every cheerful courtyard with Spanish tiles. Every last singing parakeet (which are native to Cadiz). Every stomp of every flamenco dancer's foot. Every breathtaking view of the sea.....

Here are some highlights:

Kate, Becca and I took a bus to Tarifa, a little seaside surfing town. There are all of these little shops selling surfboards and suntan lotion and such. It is off-season there, but we managed to find a cute little sandwich ship with azure blue tiles framing a door that exits to a courtyard with fig trees and sunshine. So happy, makes you wanna sing Van Halen songs all day. In fact, here are Kate and I enacting "Jump!"

Kate and I think alike. We got the great idea to drink the chocolate left over from the chocolate con churros. It is this amazing sludge, a little bit thicker than hot chocolate and a little thinner than pudding. I think usually people just dip their churros in it, but what the heck else would we do with the left-overs? Drinking it seemed like a great idea to me.

We also found Duff Beer in an Irish pub in Cadiz. Here is Sarah's husband (his name is Nate, but we renamed him Dustin, because that just seems to fit him better) and here is Kate:

Let's see.....what friend Jason and I fell in love with Cafe' Con Leche, as I had mentioned before. He is leaving the ship in a few short days. We keep cracking up at every single thing we see. We create our own humor. Gonna miss you, Jason!
Shirl is the dry sense of humor in our group and she also cracks me up to no end. In addition to being hilarious, she is the Spanish speaker of the group and I thought a good blog title would have been "Who needs a Spanish Phrase book when you've got Shirl?" She is the Judicial Officer for the voyage and she has the perfect attitude for this role. Very calm, never gets worked up about things and you are never quite sure if she's joking or serious. Here we are enjoying these mini-sandwiches. The best one was with churrizo and brie and pimento. At first I couldn't figure out what I was ordering, so I ordered a chocolate sandwich on whole-wheat. It was kinda like eating a Lindt chocolate bar on some bread (but the bread here is mucho mas mejor que any bread we have in the US) Here are Shirl and I at the sandwich place. (Where was she when I was ordering my chocolate on whole wheat? Probably snickering at my Spanish.....)
Speaking of judicial, I reverted back to my days working in Residential Life once again. I was on-call the other night in port. Now when and if the phone rings at 5:15 AM it is never a "good morning sushine" sort of call. It is more like "Laurie, get down here fast, there's an emergency" call. Unfortunately I had one of those calls "Laurie come down to the gangway immediately" and it was a drunken student who got the great idea to climb the 12 foot fence to get back to the ship instead of walking around to go through the gate. He fell, busted open his forehead, and the Physicians Assistant on board had to suture him up. John (the PA) and I were kind of rolling our eyes, but kind of laughing a little too. I walked the kid back to his cabin and noticed as he stumbled there that he was eating the ice we gave him for his head.

Aside from that it was just a fantastic time in Spain. Here are some of my friends and I on our last day. Becca, Shirl, Jason, me and Sarah (not to be confused with my sister-in-law Sarah). Speaking of which-Scott and Sarah- notice the MBT sneakers!

And now I'm back on board. They are streaming in the Super Bowl as we speak. Kinda surreal since it's almost midnight.

When the students came back onto the ship, my staff had Gangway duty. It was definitely an interesting role. They had an on-ship time of 1600 or else they get "dock time" which means they can't get off the ship for awhile at the next port. I feel like I said "do you have metal?" 18393038 times because students kept leaving stuff in their pockets to set off the ship's metal detector. Finally when it was all done the Ship's Crew carried on the actual gangway, which is the ramp that leads up to the ship. It is this big gray metal ramp and they walked through the metal detector. I couldn't resist asking them "Do you have metal?" Our staff was slap-happy and exhausted from Spain so for some reason this cracked us all up to no end.

We are currently stuck in the pouring rain in Gibralter where we are waiting to bunker (fuel). It is storming- lightening and all so the weather is too poor for the fuel ship to extend the line to our ship. So we have to wait it out and we'll probably get to Casablanca late. Probably not until tomorrow night (we were supposed to arrive at 8 AM). It looks like my overnight trip to Marrakesh may get canceleled. It's okay though, I'll find something else to do in Morocco. I've already discovered how easy it is to create my own fun.

Grandma, I think it would be appropriate to end this blog with one of your favorite metaphors here:
"Any port in the storm."